In conformation it was primarily human, but there the similarity ended. It had arms and legs and it walked erect upon two feet; but such feet! They were huge, flat things with nailless toes—short, stubby toes with webs between them. Its arms were short and in lieu of fingers its hands were armed with three heavy claws. It stood somewhere in the neighborhood of five feet in height and there was not a vestige of hair upon its entire naked body, the skin of which was of the sickly pallor of a corpse.
But these attributes lent to it but a fraction of its repulsiveness—it was its head and face that were appalling. It had no external ears, there being only two small orifices on either side of its head where these organs are ordinarily located. Its mouth was large with loose, flabby lips that were drawn back now into a snarl that exposed two rows of heavy fangs. Two small openings above the center of the mouth marked the spot where a nose should have been and, to add further to the hideousness of its appearance, it was eyeless, unless bulging protuberances forcing out the skin where the eyes should have been might be called eyes. Here the skin upon the face moved as though great, round eyes were rolling beneath. The hideousness of that blank face without eyelids, lashes or eyebrows shocked even the calm and steady nerves of Tanar.
The creature carried no weapons, but what need had it for weapons, armed as it was with those formidable claws and fangs? Beneath its pallid skin surged great muscles that attested its giant strength and upon its otherwise blank face the mouth alone was sufficient to suggest its diabolical ferocity.
“Run, Tanar!” cried Stellara. “Take to the trees! It is one of the Buried People.” But the thing was too close to him to admit of escape even if Tanar had been minded to desert Stellara, and so he stood there quietly awaiting the encounter and then suddenly, as though to add to the uncanny horror of the situation, the thing spoke. From its flabby, drooling lips issued sounds—mumbled, ghastly sounds that yet took on the semblance of speech until it became intelligible in a distorted way to Tanar and Stellara.
“It is the woman I want,” mumbled the creature. “Give me the woman, and the man may go.” To Tanar’s shocked sensibilities it was as though a mutilated corpse had risen from the grave and spoken, and he fell back a step with a sensation as nearly akin to horror as he had ever experienced.
“You cannot have the woman,” said Tanar. “Leave us alone, or I will kill you.”
An uncanny scream that was a mixture of laugh and shriek broke from the lips of the thing. “Then die!” it cried, as it launched itself upon the Sarian.
As it closed it struck upward with its heavy claws in an attempt to disembowel its antagonist, but Tanar eluded its first rush by leaping lightly to one side and then, turning quickly, he hurled himself upon the loathsome body and circling its neck with one powerful arm Tanar turned suddenly and, bending his body forward and downward, hurled the creature over his head and heavily to the ground.
But instantly it was up again and at him. Screaming with rage and frothing at the mouth it struck wildly with its heavy claws, but Tanar had learned certain things from David Innes that men of the stone age ordinarily do not know, for David had taught him, as he had taught many another young Pellucidarians, the art of self-defense, including boxing, wrestling and jiu-jitsu, and now again they came into good stead as they had upon other occasions since he had mastered them and once more he gave thanks for the fortunate circumstance that had brought David Innes from the outer crust to Pellucidar to direct the destinies of its human race as first emperor.
Combined with his knowledge, training and agility was Tanar’s great strength, without which these other accomplishments would have been of far lesser value, and so as the creature struck, Tanar parried the blows, fending the wicked talons from his flesh and with a strength that surprised his antagonist since it was fully as great as his own.
But what was still more surprising to the monster was the frequency with which Tanar was able to step in and deliver telling blows to the body and head that; in its awkwardness and lack of skill, it was unable to properly protect.
To one side, watching the battle for which she was the stake, stood Stellara. She might have run away and hidden; she might have made good her escape, but no such thoughts entered her courageous little head. It would have been as impossible for her to desert her champion in the hour of his need as it would have been for him to leave her to her fate and so she stood there, helpless, awaiting the outcome.
To and fro across the clearing the battlers moved, trampling down the lush vegetation that sometimes grew so thickly as to hamper their movements, and now it became apparent to both Stellara and Tanar from the labored breathing of the creature that it was being steadily worn down and that it lacked the endurance of the Sarian. However, probably sensing something of this itself, it now redoubled its efforts and the ferocity of its attack, and, at the same time, Tanar discovered a vulnerable spot at which to aim his blows.
Striking for the face he had accidentally touched one of the bulging protuberances that lay beneath the skin where the eyes should have been. At the impact of the blow, light as it was, the creature screamed and leaped backward, instinctively raising one of its claws to the injured organ and thereafter Tanar directed all his efforts toward placing further and heavier blows upon those two bulging spots.
He struck again and landed cleanly a heavy blow upon one of them. With a shriek of pain the creature stepped back and clamped both paws to its hurt.
They were fighting very close to where Stellara stood. The creature’s back was toward her and she could have reached out and touched him, so near was he to her. She saw Tanar spring forward to strike again. The creature dropped back quite abreast of her and then suddenly lowering its head it gave vent to a horrid shriek and charged the Sarian with all the hideous ferocity that it could gather.
It seemed as though it had mustered all its remaining vitality and thrown it into this last, mad charge. Tanar, his mind and muscles coordinating perfectly, quick to see openings and take advantage of them and equally quick to realize the advantages of retreat, leaped backward to avoid the mad charge and the flailing claws, but as he did so one of his heels struck a low bush and he fell heavily to the ground upon his back.
For the moment he was helpless and in that brief moment the creature could be upon him with those horrid fangs and ripping claws.
Tanar knew it. The thing charging him knew it and Stellara, standing so close to them, knew it, and so quickly did she act that Tanar had scarcely struck the ground as she launched herself bodily upon the charging monster from behind.
As a football player hurls himself forward to tackle an opponent so Stellara hurled herself at the creature. Her arms encircled its knees and then slipped down, as he kicked and struggled to free himself, until finally she secured a hold upon one of his skinny ankles just above its huge foot. There she clung and the creature lunged forward just short of Tanar, but instantly, with a howl of rage, it turned to rend the girl. But that brief instant of delay had been sufficient to permit Tanar to regain his feet and ere ever the talons or fangs could sink into the soft flesh of Stellara, Tanar was upon the creature’s back. Fingers of steel encircled its throat and though it struggled and struck out with its heavy claws it was at last helpless in the clutches of the Sarian.
Slowly, relentlessly, Tanar choked the life from the monster and then, with an expression of disgust, he cast the corpse aside and stepped quickly to where Stellara was staggering weakly to her feet.
He put his arm about her and for a moment she buried her face in his shoulder and sobbed. “Do not be afraid,” he said; “the thing is dead.”
She raised her face toward his. “Let us go away from here,” she said. “I am afraid. There may be more of the Buried People about. There must be an entrance to their underworld near here, for they do not wander far from such openings.”
“Yes,” he said, “until I have weapons I wish to see no more of them.”
“They are horrible creatures,” said Stellara, “and if there had been two of them we should both have been lost.”
“What are they?” asked Tanar. “You seem to know about them. Where had you ever seen one before?”
“I have never seen one until just now,” said she, “but my mother told me about them. They are feared and hated by all Amiocapians. They are Coripies and they inhabit dark caverns and tunnels beneath the surface of the ground. That is why we call them the Buried People. They live on flesh and wandering about the jungle they gather up the remains of our kills and devour the bodies of wild beasts that have died in the forest, but being afraid of our spears they do not venture far from the openings that lead down into their dark world. Occasionally they waylay a lone hunter and less often they come to one of our villages and seize a woman or child. No one has ever entered their world and escaped to tell about it, so that what my mother has told me about them is only what our people have imagined as to the underworld where the Buried People dwell for there has never been any Amiocapian warrior brave enough to venture into the dark recesses of one of their tunnels, or if there has been such he has not returned to tell of it.”
“And if the kindly Amiocapians had not decided to burn us to death, they might have given us to the Buried People?” asked Tanar.
“Yes, they would have taken us and bound us to trees close to one of the entrances to the underworld, but do not blame my mother’s people for that as they would have been doing only that which they considered right and proper. “
“Perhaps they are a kindly people,” said Tanar, with a grin, “for it was certainly far more kindly to accord us death by burning at the stake than to have left us to the horrid attentions of the Coripies. But come, we will take to the trees again, for this spot does not look as beautiful to me now as it did when we first looked upon it.”
Once more they took up their flight among the branches and just as they were commencing to feel the urge to sleep Tanar discovered a small deer in a game trail beneath them, and making his kill the two satisfied their hunger, and then with small branches and great leaves Tanar constructed a platform in a tree—a narrow couch, where Stellara lay dawn to sleep while he stood guard, and after she had slept he slept, and then once more they resumed their flight.
Strengthened and refreshed by food and sleep they renewed their journey in higher spirits and greater hopefulness. The village of Lar lay far behind and since they had left it they had seen no other village nor any sign of man.
While Stellara had slept Tanar had busied himself in fashioning crude weapons against the time when he might find proper materials for the making of better ones. A slender branch of hard wood, gnawed to a point by his strong white teeth, must answer him for a spear. His bow was constructed of another branch and strung with tendons taken from the deer he had killed, while his arrows were slender shoots cut from a tough shrub that grew plentifully throughout the forest. He fashioned a second, lighter spear for Stellara, and thus armed each felt a sense of security that had been entirely wanting before.
On and on they went, three times they ate and once again they slept, and still they had not reached the seacoast.
The great sun hung overhead; a gentle, cooling breeze moved through the forest; birds of gorgeous plumage and little monkeys unknown to the outer world flew or scampered, sang or chattered as the man and the woman disturbed them in their passage. It was a peaceful world and to Tanar, accustomed to the savage, carnivorous beasts that overran the great mainland of his birth, it seemed a very safe and colorless world; yet he was content that nothing was interfering with their progress toward escape.
Stellara had said no more about desiring to return to Korsar and the plan that always hovered among his thoughts included taking Stellara back to Sari with him,
The peaceful trend of Tanar’s thoughts was suddenly shattered by the sound of shrill trumpeting. So close it sounded that it might almost have been directly beneath him, and an instant later as he parted the foliage ahead of him he saw the cause of the disturbance.
The jungle ended here upon the edge of open meadowland that was dotted with small clumps of trees. In the foreground there were two figures—a warrior fleeing for his life and behind him a huge tandor, which, though going upon three legs, was sure soon to overtake the man.
Tanar took the entire scene in at a glance and was aware that here was a lone tandor hunter who had failed to hamstring his prey in both hind legs.
It is seldom that man hunts the great tandor single-handed and only the bravest or the most rash would essay to do so. Ordinarily there are several hunters, two of whom are armed with heavy, stone axes. While the others make a noise to attract the attention of the tandor and hide the sound of the approach of the axe men, the latter creep cautiously through the underbrush from the rear of the great animal until each is within striking distance of a hind leg. Then simultaneously they hamstring the monster, which, lying helpless, they dispatch with heavy spears and arrows.
He who would alone hamstring a tandor must be endowed not only with great strength and courage, but must be able to strike two unerring blows with his axe in such rapid succession that the beast is crippled almost before it realizes that it has been attacked.
It was evident to Tanar that this hunter had failed to get in his second blow quickly enough and now he was at the mercy of the great beast.
Since they had started upon their flight through the trees Stellara had overcome her fear and was now able to travel alone with only occasional assistance from Tanar. She had been following the Sarian and now she stood at his side, watching the tragedy being enacted below them.
“He will be killed,” she cried. “Can we not save him?”
This thought had not occurred to Tanar, for was the man not an Amiocapian and an enemy; but there was something in the girl’s tone that spurred the Sarian to action. Perhaps it was the instinct in the male to exhibit his prowess before the female. Perhaps it was because at heart Tanar was brave and magnanimous, or perhaps it was because that among all the other women in the world it was Stellara who had spoken. Who may know? Perhaps Tanar did not know himself what prompted his next act.
Shouting a word that is familiar to all tandor hunters and which is most nearly translatable into English as “Reverse!” he leaped to the ground almost at the side of the charging tandor and simultaneously he carried his spear hand back and drove the heavy shaft deep into the beast’s side, just behind its left shoulder. Then he leaped back into the forest expecting that the tandor would do precisely what it did do.
With a squeal of pain it turned upon its new tormentor.
The Amiocapian, who still clung to his heavy axe, had heard, as though it was a miracle from the gods, the familiar signal that had burst so suddenly from Tanar’s lips. It had told him what the other would attempt and he was ready, with the result that he turned back toward the beast at the instant that it wheeled to charge after Tanar, and as it crashed into the undergrowth of the jungle in pursuit of the Sarian the Amiocapian overtook it. The great axe moved swiftly as lightning and the huge beast, trumpeting with rage, sank helplessly to the ground and rolled over on its side.
“Down!” shouted the Amiocapian, to advise Tanar that the attack had been successful
The Sarian returned and together the two warriors dispatched the great beast, while above them Stellara remained among the concealing verdure of the trees, for the women of Pellucidar do not rashly expose themselves to view of enemy warriors. In this instance she knew that it would be safer to wait and discover the attitude of the Amiocapian toward Tanar. Perhaps he would be grateful and friendly, but there was the possibility that he might not.
The beast dispatched, the two men faced one another.
“Who are you,” demanded the Amiocapian, “who came so bravely to the rescue of a stranger? I do not recognize you. You are not of Amiocap.”
“My name is Tanar and I am from the kingdom of Sari, that lies far away on the distant mainland. I was captured by the Korsars, who invaded the empire of which Sari is a part. They were taking me and other prisoners back to Korsar when the fleet was overtaken by a terrific storm and the ship upon which I was confined was so disabled that it was deserted by its crew. Drifting helplessly with the wind and current it finally bore us to the shores of Amiocap, where we were captured by warriors from the village of Lar. They did not believe our story, but thought that we were Korsars and they were about to destroy us when we succeeded in making our escape.
“If you do not believe me,” continued the Sarian, “then one of us must die for under no circumstances will we return to Lar to be burned at the stake.”
“Whether I believe you or not,” replied the Amiocapian, “I should be beneath the contempt of all men were I to permit any harm to befall one who has just saved my life at the risk of his own.”
“Very well,” said Tanar. “We shall go our way in the knowledge that you will not reveal our whereabouts to the men of the village of Lar.”
“You say ‘we,’” said the Amiocapian. “You are not alone then?”
“No, there is another with me,” replied Tanar.
“Perhaps I can help you,” said the Amiocapian. “It is my duty to do so. In what direction are you going and how do you plan to escape from Amiocap?”
“We are seeking the coast where we hope to be able to build a craft and to cross the ocean to the mainland.”
The Amiocapian shook his head. “That will be difficult,” he said. “Nay, impossible.”
“We may only make the attempt,” said Tanar, “for it is evident that we cannot remain here among the people of Amiocap, who will not believe that we are not Korsars.”
“You do not look at all like the Korsars,” said the warrior. “Where is your companion? Does he look like one?”
“My companion is a woman,” replied Tanar.
“If she looks no more like a Korsar than you, then it were easy to believe your story and, I, for one, am willing to believe it and willing to help you. There are other villages upon Amiocap than Lar and other chiefs than Zural.
“We are all bitter against the Korsars, but we are not all blinded by our hate as is Zural. Fetch your companion and if she does not appear to be a Korsar, I will take you to my own village and see that you are well treated. If I am in doubt I will permit you to go your way; nor shall I mention the fact to others that I have seen you.”
“That is fair enough,” said Tanar, and then, turning, he called to the girl. “Come, Stellara! Here is a warrior who would see if you are a Korsar.”
The girl dropped lightly to the ground from the branches of the tree above the two men.
As the eyes of the Amiocapian fell upon her he stepped back with an exclamation of shock and surprise.
“Gods of Amiocap!” he cried. “Allara!” The two looked at him in amazement. “No, not Allara,” said Tanar, “but Stellara, her daughter. Who are you that you should so quickly recognize the likeness?”
“I am Fedol,” said the man, “and Allara was my mate.”
“Then this is your daughter, Fedol,” said Tanar.
The warrior shook his head, sadly. “No,” he said, “I can believe that she is the daughter of Allara, but her father must have been a Korsar for Allara was stolen from me by the men of Korsar. She is a Korsar and though my heart urges me to accept her as my daughter, the customs of Amiocap forbid. Go your way in peace. If I can protect you I shall, but I cannot accept you, or take you to my village.”
Stellara came close to Fedol, her eyes searching the tan skin upon his left shoulder. “You are Fedol,” she said, pointing to the red birthmark upon his skin, “and here is the proof that my mother gave me, transmitted to me through your blood, that I am the daughter of Fedol,” and she turned her left shoulder to him, and there lay upon the white skin a small, round, red mark identical with that upon the left shoulder of the Amiocapian.
For a moment Fedol stood spellbound his eyes fixed upon Stellara’s shoulder and then he took her into his arms and held her closely.
“My daughter!” he murmured. “Allara come back to me in the blood of our blood and the flesh of our flesh!”